Months ahead of ACA sign-up, outreach underway

Photo: Flickr/DoNotLick



Tracking down Monterey County residents who become eligible for free or discounted health insurance under federal health care reform might take an army.

But an army is not what the county will get.

Instead, officials are working with their counterparts in Santa Cruz County to land a $500,000 grant. With that cash, they hope to build a network of nonprofits and business leaders that can locate potential new Medi-Cal patients and others who may qualify for discounted coverage on the state run health insurance exchange known as Covered California.

“This is starting (awareness) at the grassroots and that means it’s likely to succeed,” said Kathleen King, CEO of the Pajaro Valley Health Community Trust, which funds organizations that may become part of the counties’ outreach efforts.

Even though people sign up for the new coverage as soon as October, the outreach plan is nascent.

Community groups are developing proposals for potential inclusion in the grant request the two counties will submit to the state in March. The grant only funds outreach and education about the new programs, not enrollment in discounted health plans or Medi-Cal, from May 2013 to December 2014.

“We are working hard to identify people who want to partner with us,” said Claudine Wildman, who is heading up Santa Cruz County Department of Human Service’s health care reform push.

To help, Santa Cruz and Monterey counties’ Community Foundations hosted a meeting of nonprofits and others who can build the outreach network.

“Whenever our grantees are potentially effected by something we want to make sure we are there to help,” said Amanda Holder, Monterey County Community Foundation Director of Communications.

It made sense for Monterey and Santa Cruz to work together because the counties share a regional media market. And, residents of the Pajaro Valley may live on one side of the county line and get health care on the other.

“We share a lot in terms of where people go to get services,” Santa Cruz County’s Wildman said.

Figuring out how to tell people about the new programs is the hard part, said Elliott Robinson, Monterey County Director of Social and Employment Services.

“Do we work with churches? How can we best work with small businesses? Do we go through the Chamber of Commerce? Can I get all of the 7-11s and all of the McDonalds to tell their employees about these programs,” he asked.

“We are very concerned about it,” Robinson said. “We will be building it as we go and it’s going to take a village.”

Robinson is most concerned with those new to health care system. He worries that the people between 138 percent and 400 percent of the poverty level may not be interested in signing up for discounted health insurance.

“If they are healthy, the assumption is a lot of the folks will ‘I’d rather have the $20’ (or potential cost of coverage),” he said.

That’s part of what makes the outreach vital, even though much of the implementation of the new law, including the computer system to sign people up to insurance plans on the health care exchange, is still to be settled in Sacramento.

Experts hope that well-informed potential patients will be more likely to visit county offices, use a phone-based insurance application system or meet with certification workers in the field.

“We are still asking a lot of questions,” Robinson said. “But we are going to do the best we can because it is so important to the community.”

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